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Jan 16, 2015

California colts are early Kentucky Derby favorites

By: By Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst


Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - California-based horses won just one Kentucky Derby between 2001 and 2011 but have taken two of the last three. They could have another winner in 2015 as the most accomplished 3-year-olds reside in the Golden State.

Trainer Bob Baffert, a three-time Derby winner, has American Pharoah and Dortmund in his stable. The former should win the Eclipse Award as the top 2- year-old, while the latter is the early line Derby favorite with three wins in three starts, including a victory in the Los Alamitos Futurity.

Two other West Coast stars also are stakes winners. Texas Red proved best in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile with a dominating 6 1/2-length win over Carpe Diem, and Calculator grabbed a win in the recently run Sham Stakes - a 4 1/2-length triumph in 1:34 4/5.

Firing Line, for Simon Callaghan, is another horse that must be considered after losing to Dortmund in a head-bobbing finish in the Los Alamitos Futurity, while Lord Nelson (another Baffert colt) put in a better-than-it- looked fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

Finally, Ocho Ocho Ocho is an unbeaten son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense. He stretched out his speed to win the 1 1/16-mile Delta Downs Jackpot by a nose over Mr. Z, but he has not worked out since. Even though he is bred to run well over 10 furlongs, his running style might not be suited for the distance.

This year is reminiscent of last season when the West Coast contingent was so strong that horses such as Dance With Fate, Chitu and Hoppertunity all won prep races outside of California. And Bayern, the eventual Breeders' Cup Classic winner, ran third as the favorite in the Arkansas Derby.

The one negative for American Pharoah, Dortmund and Firing Line is the appearance of Storm Cat in their pedigrees. The influential sire first hit the breeding shed in 1988 and none of his descendents have ever won the Kentucky Derby. Many have run second (Menifee, Lion Heart, Bluegrass Cat, Ice Box, Bodemeister and, most recently, Commanding Curve), but none have been blanketed with the garland of roses.

Storm Cat had eight runners last year and three of them finished in the last four spots. Six horses in the 2013 Derby were Storm Cat's and four held down the last four positions. Eight more ran in 2012 and five wound up in the bottom half of the field. Another eight ran the year before and all failed, including the two favorites.

Racing experts used to rip trainer Todd Pletcher as many of his horses would finish last in the Derby. Well, horses with Storm Cat in their pedigrees have run last each of the last four runnings. Given this trend (or coincidence), I would stay away from American Pharoah, Dortmund and Firing Line, especially as possible favorites.

As far as Texas Red and Calculator are concerned, they have excellent shots at winning on the first Saturday in May.

Texas Red went against the grain of the track on Breeders' Cup Saturday and rolled to a 6 1/2-length victory in the Juvenile as American Pharoah and Calculator sat on the sidelines.

The son of Preakness and Belmont winner, Afleet Alex, is bred to get the 1 1/4 miles. Afleet Alex sent out Afleet Again to win the BC Marathon and Afleet Express to win the Travers. Texas Red's damsire, Jeune Homme defeated Paradise Creek (an Eclipse Award-winning grass horse) and Johann Quatz (second in the 1994 BC Mile) over nine furlongs in the Citation Stakes on the turf.

As for Calculator, he was most impressive breaking his maiden in the Sham Stakes after running second to American Pharoah in both the Frontrunner and Del Mar Futurity.

His pedigree is not in the same league as Texas Red's, particularly on top with sprinters In Summation, Put it Back and Honour and Glory. Fortunately, his dam side is loaded with stayers. His second dam, Christy Love, is a half- sister to With Every Wish, who is the dam of Oatsee, producer of both Shackleford (Preakness winner) and Lady Joanne (Alabama winner).

OTHER HORSES TO WATCH IN THE COMING MONTHS

Pletcher always has a bunch of colts primed for Kentucky and Carpe Diem leads the way. The chestnut colt ran deceptively well despite losing by over six lengths to Texas Red in the BC Juvenile. Prior to that, he disposed of the Breeders' Futurity field with ease defeating Mr. Z by 6 1/4 lengths.

As is the case for American Pharoah, Dortmund and Firing Line, Carpe Diem sports Storm Cat as his sire's sire, so it might be best to hold judgment on the son of Giant's Causeway, especially at low odds (as a side note, Mr. Z's damsire also is Storm Cat).

Pletcher's other stakes winners - Blofeld, Competitive Edge and Daredevil - all have outside chances to win the Derby, but the first two might not amount to anything more than milers, while Daredevil still has to prove he can win on a fast track.

El Kabeir leads the way in terms of Kentucky Derby points and he certainly is a classy 3-year-old. However, his sire is Scat Daddy, meaning he is part of the Storm Cat crew and the rest of his pedigree suggests nine furlongs will be the max.

Kiaran McLaughlin has plenty of 3-year-olds on the Derby trail, including Frosted, Imperia and Ocean Knight. Frosted ran second to Leave the Light On in the Remsen and Imperia lost to El Kabeir by just a head in the Kentucky Jockey Club.

Meanwhile, Ocean Knight could wind up being the best of all. The son of Curlin rolled to a 4 1/4-length victory at first asking at Aqueduct last month and is training very well at Palm Meadows in preparation for his first stakes attempt. On the flip side, those folks believing in the Storm Cat curse might want to stay away from Ocean Knight as his damsire's sire is the one and only Storm Cat.

FOUR MORE WITH LEGITIMATE CHANCES

Spring Quality has scratched out of more races than he has run, but what a race it was. The son of Quality Road broke his maiden at Keeneland back in October with a 2 1/4-length triumph over Hidden Danger, running his final furlong in a stout 11 3/5 seconds.

Trained by Graham Motion, who sent out Animal Kingdom to win the 2011 Kentucky Derby, Spring Quality is bred to run all day. His third dam, First Approach, won the 10-furlong Flower Bowl Handicap on the turf, and her half-sister, Last Approach, won a stakes at 1 1/2 miles on the dirt.

Spring Quality's second dam, Alice Springs, was a multiple stakes-winning mare of distances up to 1 3/16 miles. His half-brother, Holiday Star, already has won at the Belmont Stakes distance, taking last year's Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland, and another half-brother, Vamos a Ver, sports a win on synthetics at 1 1/8 miles.

Spring Quality was entered to run for a second time at Parx and at Laurel in early January, but poor weather conditions forced Motion to scratch both times. A lot has to go right for the colt moving forward, but there is no doubt he has the ability to do so.

Another horse to watch is My Johnny Be Good. No Kentucky Derby winner has ever had four words in his name, but this son of Colonel John could be the exception.

Owned and trained by the same connections of Colonel John, My Johnny Be Good won second time out at Arlington Park. His next stop was a trip to Keeneland in an allowance race in which he ran second to Eagle, a colt who finished less than a length behind El Kabeir and Imperia in the Kentucky Jockey Club.

My Johnny Be Good finished his 2-year-old season with a smashing 14 1/2-length score on the dirt at Tampa Bay Downs, running the six furlongs in 1:09 1/5. That final time is just three-fifths of a second off the track record. The homebred is expected to stay in Tampa for the Sam F. Davis Stakes later this month.

War Story, an undefeated son of Northern Afleet (Afleet Alex's sire), has won impressively in both outings. He made his debut at Churchill Downs, breaking very poorly from the gate while spotting the field a good five lengths at the start. In fact, he was about 10 lengths off the pace after the first quarter- mile. With a furlong remaining, the gelding was on the lead by a length and he drew clear by 2 3/4 lengths under the wire.

Purchased and sent to new trainer Tom Amoss, War Story went to Louisiana for his second start at one mile. The chestnut won by 2 3/4 lengths as the 6-5 favorite despite being bumped out of the gate.

His pedigree is a strong one as his half-brother, Draw Two, won at 1 1/2 miles on the turf last year, and his second dam is a half-sister to Epitome, the 1987 BC Juvenile Fillies champion, who produced Essence of Dubai - the 2002 UAE and Super Derbies winner.

Danzig Moon is the fourth and final horse with high Kentucky Derby early line odds. The son of Malibu Moon hit the track for the first time at Keeneland last October and ran fourth in a six-furlong sprint.

Danzig Moon followed that effort up with a second-place finish at one-mile at Churchill Downs. Bumped at the start and 11 lengths back after the first quarter, he ran his middle half in 47 2/5 to close within 3 1/2 lengths of the lead.

Unfortunately, Island Town was a little bit better that day as Danzig Moon finished second by 1 1/2 lengths. The bay colt had his first workout since Nov. 22 this past Sunday, so he should make his next start by the end of the month or early February.

Six others to keep an eye on are Another Lemon Drop, Blame Game, Far Right, Itsaknockout and two turf horses - Bolo and Hard to Port.

THE INITIAL 2015 JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"

1) Spring Quality - The early choice among a superb 3-year-old crop

2) Texas Red - Should make next start in San Vicente Stakes

3) American Pharoah - Will have just two more starts before Derby

4) Dortmund - Look for early Derby favorite next in Robert F. Lewis

5) Carpe Diem - Has yet to post a work since the Breeders' Cup

6) My Johnny Be Good - Under the radar colt could be special

7) Calculator - Must prove he can beat horses above him on list

8) Firing Line - Could be the overlooked California-based colt

9) Ocho Ocho Ocho - Might not race again until San Felipe in March

10) War Story - The top choice in Saturday's LeComte Stakes

11) Eagle - The probable LeComte favorite despite No. 11 post

12) El Kabeir - Hard-hitting colt not bred to sparkle at 1 1/4



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